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HomeSports#18/#17 Tennessee Vols Basketball hosts #15/#18 Kansas Jayhawks Saturday

#18/#17 Tennessee Vols Basketball hosts #15/#18 Kansas Jayhawks Saturday

#18/#17 Tennessee (11-3 | 5-3 SEC) vs. #15/#18 Kansas (11-5 | 5-4 BIG 12)

Saturday, January 30th, 2021 | 5:05pm CT
Knoxville, TN | Thompson-Boling Arena | TV: ESPN

Tennessee Volunteers - UT VolsKnoxville, TN – The 18th-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team returns to the hardwood for a top-20 showdown in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge when No. 15 Kansas arrives in Knoxville on Saturday night, January 20th, 2021. Tipoff from Thompson-Boling Arena is slated for 5:00pm CT on ESPN.

Fans can catch Saturday night’s game on ESPN and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App or online at espn.com/watch. Bob Wischusen and Dick Vitale will have the call.

Tennessee Men's Basketball plays Kansas at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday. (UT Athletics)
Tennessee Men’s Basketball plays Kansas at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday. (UT Athletics)

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertlekamp describing the action.

Last time out, Tennessee battled past Mississippi State, 56-53 to end its two-game losing skid. The Vols were led by senior Yves Pons who scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and the defensive efforts of freshman Keon Johnson who recorded three steals and a pair of blocks, while scoring eight points of his own.

A victory on Saturday would give UT its second win over a top-15 opponent, while also improving the Vols home record to 12-2 during NABC Suits and Sneakers games.

Series History Between Tennessee and Kansas

Tennessee owns a 1-4 all-time record vs. Kansas, dating to 2009.

The first-ever meeting took place at Allen Fieldhouse, with KU claiming a 92-85 victory in 2009. The Vols avenged that loss the following season by upsetting the top-ranked Jayhawks in Knoxville on January 10th, 2010.

In last year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, Kansas defended its home court with a 74-68 win over the Vols.

The five previous meetings have been decided by an average of seven points.

Tennessee’s all-time record against current members of the Big 12 stands at 14-18.

A Win Would

Give Tennessee two victories over top-15 teams this season.

Be the UT Vols’ 14th win over a ranked opponent during the Barnes era.

Give the Vols a 12-2 home record in NABC Suits and Sneakers games.

Layup Lines

The 2021 SEC/Big 12 Challenge marks the event’s eighth year. Tennessee is 4-2 in the event, as the Vols did not take part in the inaugural challenge.

The Big 12 won the challenge in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2019. The SEC claimed its lone win in 2018, and the series was tied in 2017 and 2020. The Big 12 has a cumulative advantage of 40-30 (.571).

Rick Barnes on Tuesday passed Kansas legend Phog Allen (and Don Haskins) to ascend to 19th place on the NCAA’s all-time Division I wins list with victory No. 720.

Tennessee is No. 12 in the latest NCAA NET ratings, with wins over three teams in the top 30.



This week, senior Yves Pons was named a top-10 finalist for the Julius Erving Award and one of 15 candidates for Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Vols senior John Fulkerson has been named to the Wooden Award’s Midseason Top-25 List.

True freshman Jaden Springer owns a team-best plus/minus rating of +11.4 per game.

During SEC play, only 4.0 points per game separate Tennessee’s top seven scorers.

Defense Wins

Tennessee ranks sixth in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 59.3 points per game.

According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the NCAA in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 87.2 points per 100 possessions. College teams typically average close to 70 possessions per game.

The Vols are forcing 16.7 turnovers per game while converting those turnovers into 18.9 points per game. Tennessee’s turnover margin stands at +5.6 (sixth nationally).

Tennessee has forced 12 of 14 opponents to turn the ball over on 20 percent or more of their possessions.

Tennessee has allowed only one opposing player to score 20 points all season (Xavier Pinson).

Reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons has 20 blocks through UT’s first eight SEC games. Pons has 100 blocks in his last 45 games.


About the Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas snapped a rare three-game losing streak with a 59-51 victory over TCU Thursday. The win gives the 15th-ranked Jayhawks an 11-5 (5-4 Big 12) record entering Saturday’s showdown on Rocky Top.

In his 18th season in Lawrence, head coach Bill Self bid farewell to 2019-20 consensus second-team All-America selections Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Also departed from last year’s squad is Isaiah Moss, who was the team’s third-leading scorer last season.

Despite recent struggles, the Jayhawks have been led by 2020 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Garrett. Garrett is the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 9.9 points per game, the team leader in assists with 3.7 per contest, and on the defensive end, he averages 1.5 steals per game. Like Tennessee’s Yves Pons, Garrett is both a member of the 2021 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year watch list.

Junior Ochai Agbaji is KU’s leading scorer, pouring in 14.4 points per game, scoring in double-figures in all but one game for the Jayhawks thus far, and ranking ninth in the Big 12 in scoring.

On the glass, redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson has pulled in a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game. That rebounding average places him in fifth among Big 12 players. Wilson also has made an impact offensively, ranking second on the team with 12.3 points per game.

As recently as 2018, a local law in Lawrence, Kansas, stated that all cars entering the city limits must first sound their horns to warn nearby horses of their arrival.

Tennessee’s Last Game Against Kansas

Despite a career-high 24 points from junior Yves Pons and a third double-double in five games from junior John Fulkerson, solid late free-throw shooting led third-ranked Kansas past Tennessee, 74-68, on Jan. 25, 2020, at historic Allen Fieldhouse.

Pons’ 24 points were the most points scored by a Vol in UT’s all-time series with Kansas. He finished the afternoon 8-of-14 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

Fulkerson’s 12 rebounds were both a career-high and the most-ever by a Tennessee player against Kansas. He added 15 points to his ledger to finish with a double-double.

Vols senior Jordan Bowden also had an effective evening for the Vols, scoring 19 points—all after halftime—to lead UT’s second-half charge.

Freshman Santiago Vescovi added nine points, five rebounds, three assists, and no turnovers.

A slow start for both squads through the opening 10 minutes saw the Jayhawks build an early 11-9 advantage despite the teams combining for a 36-percent shooting mark from the field (9-of-25).

Over the next two minutes, the Vols broke open a 12-2 run, knocking down four consecutive field goals—spearheaded by two 3-point baskets from Pons—to take a 20-13 lead with 8:02 remaining in the opening half.

The Jayhawks responded, outscoring UT 13-6 over the next four minutes to knot the score at 26-26.

In the closing minutes of the opening frame, Kansas established its largest lead of the afternoon, holding a 37-30 advantage as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

Out of the break, an evenly matched start to the second half saw Kansas hold on to its seven-point advantage as both squads went bucket-for-bucket to increase the scoreline to 49-42, in favor of the Jayhawks at the under-16 media timeout.

As the second half wore on, the Vols held steady against the Kansas attack, trimming their deficit to just six points, as the Jayhawks led 62-56 with less than eight minutes remaining.

In the game’s final minutes, the Vols fought incredibly hard, knocking KU’s lead to as few as three points. However, solid free-throw shooting from Kansas cemented the outcome.


Rick Barnes & Bill Self: 1,400 Combined Wins

Rick Barnes (720) and Bill Self (719) are the seventh- and eighth-winningest active Division I coaches, respectively, in terms of total victories.

Barnes owns seven head-to-head wins over Self—six while Self was at Kansas, once at Illinois. No other head coach (active or former) has defeated Self more than that. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo also has beaten Self seven times.

Volunteers, Jayhawks Travel Together

In addition to a home-and-home contract in 2009 and 2010—which saw each team win on its own home court—the Vols and Jayhawks have been on a similar holiday tournament rotation the past decade.

The teams were part of the same field at the 2011 Maui Invitational (did not meet), the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis (did not meet), the 2014 Orlando Classic (Kansas defeated the Vols) and the 2018 NIT Season Tipoff (Kansas defeated the Vols in the championship game).

Air Force 1s

Rick Barnes and his staff are stomping in some flyknit anthracite Nike Air Force 1s this week for the NABC’s Coaches vs. Cancer Suits & Sneakers Week.

Tennessee is 17-6 all-time in Suits & Sneakers games dating to 2004, including an 11-2 record at home.

Jaden Springer Efficient and Essential

When not sidelined by injury, freshman Jaden Springer has displayed remarkable poise and efficiency.

The 2020 McDonald’s All-American is shooting .524 (43-82) overall and  .563 (9-16) from 3-point range.

The true freshman phenom is the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.9 ppg while only attempting 6.8 field goals per game. His plus-minus rating is a team-best +11.4 per game.

The Vols lost to Alabama on January 2nd, a game Springer left early with an ankle injury after logging only five minutes of action. And after Springer reinjured the ankle late in the win over Vanderbilt on January 16th, Tennessee lost its next two games while he was sidelined.

During the two losses in which he did not play, plus the portion of the Alabama game after Springer was sidelined, Tennessee was outscored 205-162.

Yves Pons Vying For National DPOY

Tennessee senior Yves Pons was one of only two SEC players to earn a spot on the 15-man candidate list for this year’s Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Pons is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and he also is a top-10 finalist for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award.

Pons’ plus/minus rating is an impressive +10.6 per game this season. He leads the Vols and ranks tied for second in the SEC with 2.5 blocks per game during SEC play.

There is no position on the court—no opposing player—that he is incapable of guarding effectively.

Next Up For Tennessee Men’s Basketball

The Tennessee Volunteers basketball team will hit the road, for a conference contest with Ole Miss on Tuesday night, February 2nd. Tipoff from Oxford is slated for 6:00pm CT on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.


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